A First Time at Pipeline

Gerry Lopez
Surf 2006

On a clear and still Saturday morning in 1963, we drove by fun-looking waves at Hale‘iwa, Laniakea and Chun’s Reef. We stopped and checked each spot, but kept heading north. Tommy had Pipeline on his mind. I was 15 years old. Tommy was older and had his driver’s license and the car, so I went where he went.

There was not another soul on the beach when we got to the Pipeline. Glistening white sand spilled into the blue-green water. The wind was blowing gently offshore, and the surf was a perfect four feet breaking close to the beach. We couldn’t have asked for anything better for our first time surfing here.

I paddled for my first wave, but it stood up so fast that I buried the nose of my board and quickly found myself swimming. Tommy laughed, but he did the same thing. The waves were much steeper and faster than any other waves we had experienced. Tommy said we needed to catch the wave sooner and stand up quicker. That sounded good in theory, but it didn’t work as we both pearled on the next waves and again were swimming to the beach. This went on for half an hour, and Tommy thought it was hilarious. I was getting frustrated, with one wipeout after another. I couldn’t keep the nose from pearling on the takeoff. Finally, we gave up, left our boards on the beach, and bodysurfed instead.

We were surprised to see a surfer with a coconut hat paddle out. He was Jock Sutherland, and he proceeded to take the waves apart. He never once lost his surfboard or his hat. What had seemed impossible to us, Jock made look easy. After the initial shock wore off, we got so jazzed watching that we swam in and got our boards to try again.

Jock offered a suggestion that, in later years, would change my life. He told us to angle on the takeoff as we dropped into the wave. Both Tommy and I had Wardy surfboards. Mine was a green-tinted 9´8˝ with a 3˝ redwood stringer down the center. It was heavy but it looked good. The shape, though, wasn’t that much different from an ironing board. A straight, flat and heavy board didn’t help on the steep Pipeline drops.

The tip from Jock did help. Both Tommy and I enjoyed immediate success. We lost all track of time until we both realized that there was a school picnic we needed to be at. We asked Jock if he knew what time it was. No one wore watches out in the surf back then. Jock just looked up at the sun in the sky and said, “It’s 11:46.” We said goodbye and paddled in, already late for our 11 o’clock picnic. About three minutes later we got to the car and checked Tommy’s watch: The dial read 11:49. Jock knew a lot more than just surfing the Pipeline.

About the Author

Entire books could be written about Patagonia ambassador Gerry Lopez: Suffice it to say, Gerry made his reputation at Pipeline riding it like nobody else before him, or since. From there he went on to a lifelong career in surfing. He is as charismatic, intelligent and intuitive on land as he is in the waves.